NAUTICAL
ANTIQUES
(No, NOT ME!)
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LAST REVISED 2009-01-26
(1) - (3)
OK: Strictly speaking, this ISN'T
knotwork....but it's so pretty I had to
include it here:  The owner
identified this as "an 1860's era
sailor's knife with blade and awl".  
In my opinion, he's about 70 years
too late.... This looks to be an
officer's or surgeon's knife,
probably about 1790's era, made in
either France or Holland.  The ivory
handle is beautifully cut and the
silver mountings are far more
ornate than any seaman (and most
sea captains) could afford.  The
blade is more suited to non-rope-
work usage (eating or general use)
and the awl is much too light for
serious ropework, but would be
ideally suited to probing for
fragments in a wound.  

Well, whatever its use or age, it is
a pretty little knife, so I stuck it
here.  Shoot me.

SOLD 20060222 for $485.00!
(4) - (9)
Then we have another and
very similar knife, but of much
No mountings or trim,  the body
is of bone rather than ivory,  
one of the axle bails is broken
off and in general it is just a
much lower quality knife.  The
blade and pricker are well
rusted and probably pitted as
well.

It
STILL sold on Ebay
(20060325) for
$169.50!

Ahhh, Ebay... land of the rich
and home of the optimistic.

Now, what are the chances of
these knives coming up for
sale 30 days apart?   
This is a fruit bowl (again, ribbon by seller) of what looks like small marline or large codline,
tarred and varnished.  The colour is due more to age than to intent, unfortunately.... I think it
must have been a warm, golden-brown when newly done.

It is appx. 11" across and 5" deep (bowl) and has a 4" deep base section.
What are not very visible are the two handles, which are in the shape of miniature chest
beckets.... a most impressive piece of work.

(2012) Des Pawson, one of the founders of the
IGKT writes to say that this and the  napkin
rings to port are probably crochet work rather than needle hitching or macrame... He is also of
the opinion that these may have come from "The West Indies" (still so 'colonial' after all these
years!) and I cheerily bow to his erudition in the subject.
A set of napkin rings in small marline,  done
in needle-hitching around a form of some
sort and Then varnished for stiffness. These  
probably date from the 1880's (ribbons added
by seller, I'm sure!) The fineness of the work,
while remarkable by today's standards, was
fairly representative of the time and care put
into these little items by seamen while
thinking of their wives or sweethearts (and
sometimes both!) back ashore.
(
Jack Aubrey's toast: "Gentlemen: To Wives
and Sweethearts!  May they never meet."
)
I wish I had a larger picture to show the
detail.
A wonderful old belt which was on Ebay...  
probably about 1-1/4" wide, it is made of 32
lines of what was once white belfast cord.  It
takes me about 12 hours to do a 16 line belt...
Pretty M.O.P. belt buckle, too... most likely
ordered from Herwig (see link below).
The justly famed "Belfast Cord" so sought after by knotters worldwide. From the collection of Dan Callahan.   This
is by
P C Herwig Co.  They sold the best Belfast (Dreadnaught) cords (120ct White Cord) and were in Brooklyn NY.  
They also published booklets on square-knotting and contributed heavily to The Encyclopaedia Of Knots And Fancy
Ropework" by Graumont & Hensel.
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Another nice old belt from Ebay... seller was convinced This was from 1840's...   I
wasn't convinced of that and said so here, but I've since seen a picture of Robert
Todd Lincoln (Abe's kid) dressed in a Union General's uniform and... a VERY
similar buckle was on his leather sword belt.   Whether or not This belt in
particular is from the given date still remains a bit of a conundrum for me, but it IS
a possibility.

Whatever, it's prettily made and a nice regular knotting pattern.
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This picture opens up to a very large image, which you really need to see the items involved.  I spent
an unusually beautiful November day in 2005 at Mystic Seaport and had a wonderful time exploring a
lot of things the general public doesn't get to see... their archives and storage facilities among others.  
I trust I made myself sufficiently useful to repay the kindnesses I was offered, and I thank all
concerned heartily for the privilege.

In some of their "display" houses, you can only see things through a glass door or a window, the
room being locked to keep "busy fingers" out of mischief,  and the Burrough's House is one of these....
the parlour in particular offers several interesting things;  doilys, several antimacassars, and This
picture (which was one of the few that made it out of that smart-disk!) shews some of the best items.
Sorry it's not clearer!
The mantle covering is often mis-identified as a form of "MacNamara's Lace", but This is pure squareknotting, It is one of about six they have at
Mystic.  Probably about 1850-60-ish, it is from heavy codline or perhaps a mainsail's warplines, and was used to 'catch' the smoke from poorly
drawing hearth and prevent it from draughting into a room as well as just being decorative...   Usually these were made by a mate or a Captain on
long whaling voyages, when they had plenty of time (four years!) to get the detailing right.  

ON the mantle are some lovely south pacific shells (sorry, I THINK the yellowish ones are Murex, but I dunno for sure!), a ship in a bottle (dated
1855, if I remember correctly... Gawd, how I wish I could have gotten inside the room to take a good picture for you!) and a
stunning fan with
sandalwood ribs and split-ivory blades.  From others I've seen of sandalwood, I expect that the blades all interlock when fully opened, but that part
is unfortunately not visible.  I don't know how old it is,  but 150 years minimum would be my guess..  Great house!  I heartily recommend Mystic
Seaport for a one-or-two day visit! (Just stay away from the
Ye Gifte Shoppe!)
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(Yes, kiddies: time for another bloody history lesson, innit?)  The COSH is an honoured part of shipboard lore.... carried aboard by the Boatswain and
his Mates  and ashore by press-gangs and sailors, it was a preferred method of defense to the knife... no less deadly in skilled hands, but also
useful in quieting-up a boisterous shipmate or maintaining order when required.  Some were made of cordage with a lead-filled "Star Knot" at the
were of harder materials or whale-bone/baleen.

(1) is a wood shaft with two lead (probably) filled balls,  the whole needle-hiched in flax  in three parts and then varnished overall.  An unusually
nice example of needle-hitching.

(2) is a very rare and  unusual cosh with two (again, likely lead) filled knobs which have been needle-hitched and tarred, but the shaft is of baleen
from a whale.  Very nicely made, probably ashore by a craftsman rather than aboard ship. This may have been carried by a Boatswain,
Master-At-Arms or Ship's Mate as it is very decorative and would have been quite costly at the time, as opposed to a rope-made cosh, few of which
survive.
(SEE BELOW!)

(3) is a Malacca (rattan) shafted cosh with the remains of the original leather wrist-loop still attached in a clove-hitch, tarred needle-hitched knobs
and varnished overall.  It has rolled around quite a lot in a container,  which is what has formed the lighter-coloured bands on the knobs.  An
extremely nice example!  This and (2) are quite deadly.

It has been said that "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished", and KEITH from Dorset, UK sends some pictures proving my statement in reference to (2)
above is not quite accurate, as he bought a very similar cosh some thirty years ago in Key Haven, Hamps.   To say I was startled is putting it mildly,
especially as this one has a peculiarity: it has been 'wounded' and repaired sometime in the very distant past by someone who was more interested
in "function" than "form".  
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A couple of more coshes... unfortunately, I have no
provenance on these or descriptions of construction.
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You REALLY need to
click on the pictures to
see the larger versions
to be able to
appreciate the
workmanship of the
coachwhip.
The owner of this cosh lists it as "a spring-loaded
'Life Preserver' ", which IS a term I'd forgotten about:
It was used by the Royal Navy in referring to coshes
and "persuaders".  This is a particularly beautiful
example of a cosh:  the entire surface is composed
of six-strand coach- whipping in two colours which
produces a lovely and quite unique "checkerboard"
pattern.  The brass button ends are something I've
never seen before, either.   Lead weighted, with one
head slightly larger than the other, this would have
been a most formidable weapon.  (The owner also
says that the larger end has some flattened spots
and "a bit of damage"  to the coachwhipping at those
points.   

Hmmmmm.....
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spam killer
Appx. 14" overall, with "loaded" ends, of baleen and needle hitching.  I would
estimate it to be 1840-1860 manufacture date.  Somewhat shorter than (2) it is
nonetheless a serviceable and quite deadly weapon in trained hands.




While quite similar to (2) above,  this cosh is somewhat more roughly hitched on
the existing end, and has been "wrapped off" using a "French Hitch" or
"Solomon's Bar", then varnished over several times. It has also not been kept
'rolling' about in a box, as can be seen from the wear on (3) above.

The interesting point is that the other end has, at some time, had it's needle
hitching so damaged that it was either removed or unravelled and it's owner did
not have the skill to replace it.  It appears that the end was thus covered with a
scrap of canvas and that the owner wrapped it as best he could, then varnished
it over to render it serviceable again as a cosh.   Once again, if only these
things could talk, what tales they would have to tell!


Thanks, Keith!
Another "life preserver", again from "Blighty" and dating
from around the 1830's or so.  

A plain and workmanlike cosh at first glance, but
examination of the needle hitching on the ends give a
much different perspective.  Whoever did this was an
absolute master of the art.

The ends are beautifully done, with no apparent starts or
stops anywhere along the work.

The whole thing weighs less than 8 ounces and balances
beautifully in the hand.  I suspect the little lanyard is not
original, but it was put on not very long after this was
made.  

Unlike so many coshes that were modified for a lanyard,
this one was drilled with care and the varnish brush used
with skill and care thereafter. It looks as though the driller
used a spike to move some of the hitching out of the way
of damage.

Shaft is rattan and is still as flexible as when made.  This
was probably more an officer's possession as the quality is
just wonderful.

Collection of Dave Held,  Fallbrook, CA.

(I have
NOT forgotten you, Mr. Held.)
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AH, but once again a sharp-eyed reader has hoist me by mine own petard, disproved and decried my suppositor... I mean,
suppositions, debunked my fond fictions and informed me (and you) that this is NOT any sort of knot-knife, nor surgeon's tool, nor -
despite it's beautiful workmanship - any sort of politicians brain-removal device...

It is, in fact, a tool used to cut, dress and then write upon Palm Leaves, something that was quite common in the South-eastern
Asia area from (???) to the 1800's, when printing presses and modern idiocies quite drove it out of fashion or necessity.

Here's a
WIKI article on the process, and if you take the time to go exploring the subject, you'll find it fascinating.

Here's a model of the above made by "ReMark", a gent in the UK,  SIMPLY BY LOOKING AT THE PICTURES ABOVE!    
COSHES
Again, a note from Des on the cosh above:   "I believe that these are nearly all made ashore by the same kind of people who made riding crops and
whips , often using a very primitive braiding machine there are a few illustrated ( called Billies)  in a catalogue  from the Diamond Whip co  
Chicago  reproduced in Whips from the West by David W Morgan. I have yet to find a copy of a UK maker but feel certain that one will turn up some
day."

I have to admit that this makes eminent sense as I have tried many times to do a similar piece of work and have gone aground every time, no mater the
artifice employed.  A machine-made covering is the only way I can see it could have been done, so I agree with Des on this one.   


Here's a blackjack  from Des' collection at
FOOTROPE KNOTS MUSEUM in Ipswich, East Anglia, UK
Already Full Sized